Parliament this week: Fisticuffs, filibustering and an erect pinky

2018-11-09 23:06

South African parliamentarians rolled back the clock to 2014 this week, with "pay back the money" chants, fisticuffs and a filibuster. But there was a new addition to the parliamentary dramatics: an erect ministerial pinkie.

Pay back the money and fisticuffs

In September 2014, the cry "pay back the money" was heard in the National Assembly chamber for the first time when former president Jacob Zuma refused to answer the EFF's question on when he was going to pay back the money for what he and the ANC then still termed "security upgrades" to his private residence in Nkandla. 

They chanted it again at the State of the Nation Address of 2015, where the white shirts violently threw them out of the chamber. They complained bitterly about the violence meted out to them.

But that was then and this is now. Today, it isn't the EFF chanting "pay back the money". Instead, it is chanted at the red berets.

The trouble started when DA chief whip John Steenhuisen tried to raise a point of order during President Cyril Ramaphosa's questioning of his auditory and comprehension ability.

EFF MPs, notably Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and Julius Malema, started speaking, drowning him out. this prompted Steenhuisen to ask what he called the "VBS looters" to let him speak.

The alleged "VBS looters" didn't like this one bit and an enraged Malema called Steenhuisen a "racist white man who is accused of rape".

The DA started chanting "pay back the money" and the EFF started chanting "racist". A scuffle broke out and EFF MP Marshall Dlamini grabbed DA MP Annette Steyn until EFF MP Fana Mokoena got between them. 

When relative order was restored, Agang MP Andries Tlouamma said it could not be allowed that whites were prevented from speaking, drawing the wrath of the EFF.

While trying to speak, he too was drowned out by the EFF, lost his patience and yelled: "Fokof!" A bottle was flung at him and EFF MP Nazier Paulsen jumped over parliamentary benches to get to Tlouamma.

The ensuing fight made international headlines, as the BBC and Newsweek reported on it. Also, it wasn't the end of the acrimony between the DA and the EFF. 

The next day, House chairperson Thoko Didiza, who was the presiding officer during the fracas, ordered Steenhuisen and Malema to withdraw their remarks to each other. Steenhuisen said Didiza's ruling was incorrect and left the House.

Instead of withdrawing, Malema said: "He is a racist young boy. He is sitting among many rapists."

He also eft the House, with his colleagues in tow.

Didiza also said Tlouamma and Paulsen and any other MPs involved would be hauled before Parliament's disciplinary committee.

Then on Thursday, DA MP Gwen Ngwenya delivered a members' statement decrying the EFF's penchant for violence.

"MP or journalist, man or woman, we are all fair game. It stems from the attitude that individuals have no rights: no right to speak the truth, no right not to be beaten up if you reveal the truth about the EFF's fascist nature and its fatal attraction to other people's money," said Ngwenya.

EFF MP Veronica Mente raised on a point of order.

"Chair, the member of the DA who just spoke of speculations and things of what she doesn't know, and lied to the House…" she said.

"That's not a point of order," said House chairperson Cedric Frolick.

"… Misleading the house, she must withdraw the word fascist," Mente continued.

Frolick said the reference to fascism was in relation to a political party and therefore not unparliamentary.

Steenhuisen then rose on a point of order and asked that Mente withdraw the comment that Ngwenya had lied to or misled the House.

Frolick asked Mente if she said Ngwenya lied.

"I said the member must stop – the black member in the white DA, racist DA – must stop lying and mislead[ing] the country," Mente said.

Frolick asked her to withdraw, but she refused and Frolick asked her to leave the House, which she did while the three other EFF MPs in the House followed her.

Ministerial pinkie

On Tuesday, before the fighting and when the EFF was still in a more jocular mood, Ndlozi suggested to Ramaphosa that he issues the ministers with a cellphone that doesn't take video and can't be hacked - a clear reference to embattled Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba's leaked sex video.

Gigaba responded to Ndlozi by raising his pinky – a gesture some interpreted to be an insult regarding penis size. Minister of Small Business Lindiwe Zulu mimicked the gesture.

Gigaba's gesture was widely criticised and the next day, in a tweet he said that being provoked, combined with the strain he was under the previous 10 days, were not excuses for making the gesture.

He agreed with another tweet which said the gesture fed into a "toxic masculinity discourse"


In November 2014, the National Assembly had a proper filibuster. For hours on end, opposition MPs raised hundreds of notices of motion in order to filibuster the adoption of the report on former president Jacob Zuma's state-sponsored home renovations. Unlike the Constitutional Court two years later, the report found Zuma did nothing wrong. 

Parliament has since adopted rules to prevent this kind of thing. 

As filibusters go, Thursday's in the Joint Constitutional Review Committee won't be one for the books.

The committee tasked with establishing whether the Constitution should be amended to allow expropriation without compensation. Last week, the committee decided that it would deal with its recommendations in this regard on Thursday.

Members of opposition parties who oppose an amendment – the DA, FF Plus and Cope – became finicky about the minutes of the committee's previous meetings.

Usually, the process of adopting minutes takes a few minutes, but on Thursday it dragged on for more than two hours.

And then the parties opposed to an amendment said they weren't ready.

The meeting was adjourned and they are expected to deal with the recommendations and adopt the report from Tuesday to Thursday.

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Read more on:    cope  |  da  |  eff  |  cyril ramaphosa  |  john steenhuisen  |  julius malema  |  cape town  |  parliament

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